DPU Data Admit It: The Reedy Creek “Restoration” Is a Boondoggle

We have seen that our City got a grant to “restore” Reedy Creek in order to remove pollutants that already are being removed.  As well, we have seen that they plan to clearcut park property and dig up a part of Reedy Creek that now helps improve water quality.

A Freedom of Information Act request to the Department of Public Utilities now provides some gory details.  

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Thus, we see:

  • DPU has no record as to how much of the sediment or phosphorus to be removed by the project already is being removed by the sediment traps (“forebays”) at Forest Hill Lake.
  • DPU has no record showing that it disclosed, or even discussed disclosing, to DEQ that it was asking for grant money to remove pollutants that the taxpayers already had built a facility to remove.
  • There are no records regarding dissolved oxygen.  As to the “see attached file” portion of this response:
    • See below as to the attached files.  Neither discusses dissolved oxygen.  Thus neither document contradicts the first part of the response:  They have no record discussing the effect of the project on the current dissolved oxygen removal in the project area.
    • See below as to the “discussion” of a rain garden alternative to the project.
  • Aside from the rain garden “discussion” (at the consultant, not at DPU), DPU has no record as to consideration of alternative sites on Reedy Creek or elsewhere.

The attachment mentioned in the last item is a PowerPoint presentation:

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The fourth slide of that presentation, mentioned in the request, is this:

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So we see that DPU’s Grace LeRose says to the public that “Integrated Watershed Management in Richmond” somehow is, or should be, related to applying funds to get best environmental gain.  But DPU has no records on that subject as to the Reedy Creek project.

The Attachments: There are two attachments to the response. 

The first is an email from February 23 of this year, 4 months after the project contracts were to be awarded, from the City’s engineering firm on the project.  See a copy here.  The date is interesting: It is the day of the public meeting in Forest Hill regarding the project.  The implication is that, as the absence of other documents demonstrates, DPU had not given any thought at all to alternatives.

The email reports a back-of-the-envelope calculation that it would take rain gardens on 55% of the residential properties on the Reedy Creek watershed to obtain the phosphorous removal calculated for the project.  From the date, we see that the City did not have even this morsel of information when it decided to clear six acres of native forest (Bill Shanabruch of the Coalition tells me that all but three of the trees to be killed are natives) and dig up Reedy Creek to remove pollutants that the sediment traps in Forest Hill lake already are removing.  In short, the consultant thought briefly about rain gardens, but DPU did not.  As well, we see that the City utterly failed to consider runoff from businesses (e.g., along Midlothian Tpk.) or other alternatives to the project before obtaining the grant and applying for the permits.

As another back-of-the-envelope calculation: If the City spent its $635,000 on the 1,760 calculated rain gardens ($360 per rain garden), they could achieve the same effect without clearcutting six acres of parkland.  Indeed, I’ll bet a $100 or $200 tax abatement would generate that many rain gardens at a much lower cost.

When I mentioned rain gardens to Bill Shanabruch, he wrote: With regard to rain gardens – they actually cost quite a lot more than $360 if they are professionally installed.  Of course, there are lots of variables: size, soils, plants, etc.  On the face of it, the city is correct that rain gardens are not as cost-effective as stream restoration in terms of getting Bay TMDL credit.  But there are many other factors to consider.  Cost-share and/or sweat equity programs for residential rain gardens would greatly reduce the cost to the city.  Then, there is also grant money available out there.  And there are lots of non-profits and volunteers to tap into.  And there are no maintenance costs because you make the private property owner sign a maintenance agreement.  But most of all, rain gardens solve the actual problem of too much stormwater volume and the pollutants carried.  I could go on and on about the benefits.  As I recall, EPA has a pretty good analysis of the benefits of green infrastructure which only become apparent when one looks at urban areas holistically and stop bean-counting for one issue.

The second attachment is a copy of the City’s application to DEQ for a Stormwater Local Assistance Fund grant.  See a copy here.

  • The application seeks $635,000 to match the same amount of City funds.
  • The application lists Reedy Creek, not the James or the Bay, as the waterbody “impacted by stormwater runoff being addressed by the project.”
  • Nonetheless, the application avers that “The downstream portion of Reedy Creek and the James River will also benefit in terms of water quality from this proposed project.”  The application utterly fails to mention the existing sediment traps in James River Park that are downstream, close to the project area.
  • Page 8 of the application is a summary of the City’s Stormwater Facilities Improvements budget, whose purpose is “[t]o complete the necessary replacement and upgrades to the stormwater facilities.”  It seems that, to DPU, the portion of Reedy Creek running through a native forest in a City park behind Wythe High School is a “stormwater facility.”

DPU later sent me a link to the City’s TMDL Action Plan.  The Reedy Creek discussion, p. 4-2, does not add anything new.

On this record, it is fair to conclude that:

  • DPU selected and designed this project without any consideration of alternatives;
  • DPU applied for and received $635,000 from DEQ without disclosing that the pollutant removal to be performed by the project already is largely or entirely performed by the sediment traps at Forest Hill Lake;
    • NOTE: A kind reader reminds me that the DEQ grant is approved but won’t be paid until all the required permits (the one I know about is the Corps of Engineers)  have issued.
  • DPU did not consider the environmental effect as to dissolved oxygen of the creek in its current condition.
  • Ms. LeRose of DPU tells the public about “integrated watershed management” and application of funds for best environmental gain but DPU has no record of either with respect to the Reedy Creek project.

The term for a government project to spend our money with no prospect of benefit is “boondoggle.”  This one would spend $1.27 million of your and my tax money to remove pollutants that we already have paid for sediment traps — and are paying for sediment trap cleaning — to remove.  And, at least by omission, they lied to DEQ to get half the money for the project.  And DPU’s LeRose tells the public one thing while DPU does another.  “Boondoggle” probably is too kind a word.  “Mendacious Boondoggle” comes closer to being accurate.

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P.S. Due, probably, to a dustup caused by the City’s arbitrary email spam filter, DPU has not yet responded to the last item in my requests:

All records that establish or comment upon the schedule for the Reedy Creek project as related to the schedule in slide 7 of the attachment.

The attachment was another LeRose Powerpoint.

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Slide 7 says:

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Slide 6 tells us that the blue squiggles stand for “Watershed Management Plan, Set goals, Identify sources of pollution.”  We already have seen that DPU did none of that in this case.

As well, although the slide title speaks of “Stakeholder Involvement,” the slide body is silent on that subject.  I’ll be interested to see what DPU actually says on the subject of public involvement.

And, given that they have no dissolved oxygen information and, apparently, no information about the effect of Forest Hill Lake on sediment or phosphorus, I’ll be interested to see their plans for post-permit monitoring and reporting.

Your tax dollars at “work.”

“The” Is a Dirty Word in Richmond

Our City Throws Away Emails Without Any Notice and Then Pretends It’s Not Their Fault

Perhaps you’ve noticed that Richmond sought and received a grant to pay for removing pollutants from Reedy Creek, never mind that the sediment traps in Forest Hill Lake already are removing those pollutants.  And never mind that they plan to dig up the part of Reedy Creek that now is helping to improve water quality.

It gets more interesting: DPU’s Grace LeRose is co-author of a PowerPoint that touts “Integrated Watershed Management” and suggests that we “Apply $$ to get best environmental gain.”  Yet DPU has not studied the environmental gain available from the upstream portion of Reedy Creek where the City’s efforts have exacerbated the problem that their present effort will not solve.  Another LeRose PowerPoint discusses “Stakeholder Involvement” that apparently never occurred.

I was curious enough about all this to send them a Freedom of Information Act request for, inter alia:

  • All records that evaluate or comment upon alternatives to the [Reedy Creek] project;
  • All records that disclose, or discuss the actual or potential disclosure, to the Department of Environmental Quality that some portion of the sediment and/or phosphorus to be removed from Reedy Creek by the project now is removed by the sediment traps at Forest Hill Lake; and
  • All records that establish or comment upon the relationship of the Reedy Creek project and the goal of [the LeRose PowerPoint] in light of the existing sediment traps at Forest Hill Lake: Apply $$ to get best environmental gain.

No reply!

I’ve had problems in the past with the Richmond system blocking emails so I forwarded the requests to Mr. Todd of IT.  He has been helpful in the past with disappearing emails.

No reply.

At this point I should have sued them.  But lawsuits are disruptive and loaded with uncertainty.  Most annoying: I would have to pay income taxes on the attorneys’ fee award.

So I mailed a hard copy to the City Attorney.  Nine days later I got a helpful call from Dave Kearney, who has returned to the City Attorney.  He assembled the request and the (LeRose PowerPoint) attachments and got them to DPU.

Next day I received an email with a pdf of a letter from Susan McKenney, also with the City Attorney.

If I were to deal with all the outrageous statements in the McKenney letter, I’d have to write a treatise.  So I’ll stick to the really weird one:

We believe the City’s email filtering appliance likely intercepted the email intended for Mr. Steidel (and any of your subsequent attempts to forward or resend that email to Mr. Steidel, Mr. Todd, or Mr. Jackson) due the the appearance of the terms (sic) “porn,” “jerk,” and “the” [in the email].

McKenney has to say “likely” because the same primitive spam filter that purges the emails without notice to anybody deletes its logs after seven days.

Then we have those offensive “terms.”  They are in the signature that I put on my Verizon account some time back to warn unwary readers about my propensity to send out links (offensive terms hilighted here):

HEADS UP: I don’t think I’ve been hacked and I post only links that work and don’t seem to be dangerous. Even so, DON’T CLICK ON ANY LINK IN THIS (or any other) EMAIL. It’s just not safe. If what I say looks interesting, and you don’t mind some risk, open your browser, type in the address of the Web site in question, and drill down to the page in question. (It’s no accident that the address of my blog, calaf.org, is quite short and easy to type.)

For example, I recently sent the link http://www.techspot.com/news/59754-watch-300-android-phones-tablets-play-beethoven-ode.html. If you are interested, you can open your browser and type in techspot.com/news. (Obviously you won’t intentionally go to anyplace in China or Russia or to anything related to porn or gambling. And you WILL check the spelling and avoid obvious traps such as “Goegle” or “tachspot”) As I write this, the Techspot 300 android phones post is listed on the /news page. Later on when it’s been replaced by newer news, you can click the search button there and search for “beethoven.” Or just Google “android phones beethoven.”

I know, I know. It’s a lot of trouble. But then, if you click a bad link and some jerk gets your logon data and your banking password and your latest love notes, you’ll wonder why you didn’t take the trouble.

So there you have it:

  • The City’s primitive and arbitrary spam filter blocks emails that contain offensive words such as “the”;
  • Any FOIA request that offends that filter gets deleted without notice to the sender or intended recipient;
  • Seven days later, they delete the logs so they can’t know what they have received or not;
  • The statute requires the City to respond to FOIA requests within five working days of receipt;
  • The City could not arbitrarily trash an email if it had not received that email;
  • The City cannot respond to a request it has trashed without notice to anybody; and
  • Poor Ms. McKenney caught the hot potato and had to embarrass herself by writing a letter that seeks to defend the City’s stupidity.

I like to say that Richmond is the second most embarrassing jurisdiction in the East.  It looks like they are bucking for first place.

Reedy Creek: If It Ain’t Broke, Spend Tax Money to “Fix” It – II

We have seen that the City plans to spend $1.27 million to control phosphorus and sediment in Reedy Creek that already are being controlled by the sediment traps at Forest Hill Park Lake.  We also have seen the monitoring data from the Reedy Creek Coalition suggesting that the project area in its present condition improves the dissolved oxygen (DO) concentration in the stream. 

Roger Stewart of DEQ referred me to Kelley West of their Piedmont Regional Office; Kelley most kindly sent me a spreadsheet with DEQ’s monitoring data from the creek.  Most of the data are focused on the time variation at one station or another but there is one nice set from 2006 that paints a clear picture of the DO up and down the creek.

First, I should tell you that the sampling stations are denoted by the river mile, i.e. the distance from the mouth of the creek.  Here are the relevant stations:

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The project area runs from just above the 44th St. station, RM 1.57 (standing there one can see the bottom end of the concrete channel, built by the City to abate upstream flooding, that ends at 46th St.), to just above Roanoke St., RM 0.99.

Also, they do their dates with the day and month reversed from usual; e.g., 17/07/2006 is July 17.

Now that you are fully armed, here are the data:

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The green overlay roughly denotes the project area.

In winter, e.g. the red curve for Feb. 14, the flow tends to be high and the oxygen solubility also is high, so the creek looks good all the way down, generally improving a bit after it leaves the concrete channel at 46th St. 

Summer is a harder time.  Note especially the June, July, and August curves, when the oxygen solubility is lower and the oxygen demanding wastes work at removing what oxygen is in the water.  But we see the project area helping the stream recover from a violation of the 4 PPM required by the water quality standard.

The Coalition points out that the project would remove the trees that shade the section below 44th St. and thus would make the downstream DO levels worse.

So we have a section above 44th St. that is crapping up the stream but the City wants to impair the section at and below 44th St. that already is helping abate the damage caused upstream.

If your kid kept tracking mud into the house, would you tear out the rug or would you get the kid cleaned up before he came in the door?  By the same token, if the upper section of the stream were causing a dissolved oxygen problem, would you fix that or go mutilate the downstream segment that was helping improve water quality?

We know the City’s answer.

Your tax dollars at “work.”

Reedy Creek: If It Ain’t Broke, Spend Tax Money to Fix It

We have seen that the City plans to spend $1.27 million to control phosphorus and sediment in Reedy Creek that already are being controlled by the sediment traps at Forest Hill Park Lake.

The Reedy Creek Coalition has some stream monitoring data that show another side of this boondoggle.  The monitoring points are here:

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Let’s rename those stations to something more descriptive: RC4 = Headwaters; RC3 = Upstream (of the project area); CB1 = Trib (as it enters the project area); RC1 = Downstream (of the project area).  With those labels here are the dissolved oxygen data:

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The water quality standard for dissolved oxygen in this stream is 5.0 parts per million as a daily average.  That does not translate to a percentage unless we know the temperature.  The percentage data nonetheless tell us that the lowest dissolved oxygen levels are found in the headwaters and that the concentration improves as the water flows through the project area.

The DEQ monitoring has placed the upstream reaches of Reedy Creek on the 305(b) list of impaired waters for dissolved oxygen and pH violations [at 453-4].

So there you have it: The impaired waters are upstream.  Rather than fix the problem at the upstream source, the City is spending $1.27 million on the part of the stream that is helping to correct the impairment.  Their justification is that the project will remove pollutants that already are being removed at Forest Hill Park Lake. 

Your tax dollars at “work.”